Some of the cast of CRACK. RUMBLE. FLY Mary L. Booker, center
Based on an article by Lily Janiak I read a few weeks ago San Francisco Chronicle, I made an impulsive trek on Sunday across the city from the Outer Richmond to Bayview-Hunters Point to see an unusual, loose adaptation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King.” What intrigued me was that the production was an American Conservatory Theater project. ACT commissioned the play from playwright Aleshea Harris as part of its Stage Coach project, which serves as a means for the professional, successful, downtown, ACT theater to reach the city’s underserved neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point, Tenderloin, Excelsior, and the Mission. Stage Coach literally drives a mobile theater unit into these neighborhoods where it sets up a portable stage. For CRACK. it parked its truck nearby and set up inside the Laughing Monk Brewery on Egbert St. off Third. However as Mary L. Booker, who plays a wise, blind, yet all-seeing elder, Mother Marsha, in CRACK (Teiresias in “Oedipus the King”), pointed out: theater has existed in Bayview Hunters Point years before ACT arrived. Booker has been performing in the Bayview since the 1960s.
CRACK. RUMBLE. FLY was staged-with basically no set save boxes moved around as needed- that weekend at Laughing Monk Brewery as well as at Mendell Plaza (as shown in the pictures)- as part of its Bayview Arts Festival. The large audience was made up of people of all ages and races: families with infants and adolescent children who watched intently. We sat on stools at brewery tables, or on folding chairs on the concrete floor. Playwright Harris, working with the professional actors in story circles to shape her play, saw parallels between the injustices going on in Sophocles’ Thebes in 400BC and Bayview Hunters Point today, namely, the housing crises, loss of identity and violence and the insecurity of not knowing if you can stay in your home or neighborhood. This powerful production included a chorus akin to original Greek made up of actors of all ages, the youngest at 13; rhythmic dialogue was driven by live music by percussionist Ngaire Young on an African drum. There was modern dance performed by Jessica Jones (Pictured to the right of David McKneely) who also played Jessa, an activist who puts her life in danger by staging protests. She tried to recruit her neighbors to join her. At one point, police sirens can be heard followed by gunshots, ending with a death. A terrific, dynamic David McKneely (below, center) was cast in the symbolic Oedipus role. Actor Mr. Kovak played his father, King (King Laius).
Though it is wonderful that ACT brings theater to these neighborhoods , more should be done to encourage folks to go to mainstream theater, like ACT on Geary, The Curran, Golden Gate Theater, The Orpheum, Magic Theater (who stages current plays at Laney College in Oakland), and others, as well as seeking out the smaller venues such as The New Conservatory Theater, Custom Made, ACT’s Strand Theatre on Market, and more. Perhaps theater boards or administers could devise some form of outreach program to accomplish this goal.
I look forward to future Stage Coach productions. Information on ACT and its productions at its theatre on Geary and at the Strand on Market, as well as on Stage Coach can be found on its website at www.act-sf.org.